12 Best Judokas in the History

The sport of Judo is generally classified as modern Japanese martial arts. However, over time, the philosophy and pedagogy of Judo have grown into an Olympic sport.

For some people, Judo is a fun activity, a way of socializing, a competitive sport, or a fitness regime.

However, to others, it is a means of self-defense, a way of challenging aggression, or a form of combat. Nevertheless, to some experts like Jigoro Kano himself, Judo is a way of life.

Are you curious about the best Judokas in the history? Below you will begin a journey to satisfy your curiosity by answering questions like this and many more.

12 Best Judokas in the History

12. Ryoko Tamura

The legendary former Japanese female judoka, Ryoko Tamura, was born on September 6, 1975. Tamura was only seven years old when she started judo.

Her first major championship was in 1990 in the Fukuoka International Women’s Judo Championships.

Ryoko-Tamura-after-a-win-in-Olympics
Ryoko Tamura after a win in Olympics (Source: Olympics)

After that, she continued to win the championship for the next 13 years.

Tamura is credited with sparking a surge in women’s judo in Japan in the 1990s, resulting in a new generation of athletes.

Moreover, she competed in the 48 kg extra-lightweight category throughout her career in Judo.

Likewise, she set a global record by winning seven world titles. It includes five Olympic medals, two golds in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.

11. Kyuzo Mifune

Kyuzo Mifune (21st April of 1883 – 27th January of 1965) is considered a god in the Judo world.

Also, he is one of judo’s history’s finest tacticians after the originator of judo, Jigoro Kano.

He was promoted to 10th dan on May 25, 1945. He was the fourth of only 15 judokas to receive the title.

Kyuzo-Mifune-striking-a-pose
Kyuzo Mifune striking a pose (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, the International Martial Arts Federation(IMAF) bestowed Hanshi and Meijin on Mifune.

Mifune’s landmark book, The Canon of Judo, was published in 1956. It remains a great explanation of judo history, philosophy, and a technical description.

Likewise, his awards include the Order of the Rising Sun (3rd Class) in 1964.

10. Hitoshi Saito

At the number ten on the list of best judoka players in the history is Hitoshi Saito (January 2, 1961 – January 20, 2015). 

In the World Judo Championship 1983, he secured a gold medal in the open weight division.

Likewise, he won another gold in LA Summer Olympics the following year.

In fact, he successfully defended his title in the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 with another gold.

Hitoshi-Saito-after-a-win
Hitoshi Saito after a win (Source: The Japan Times)

After such an impressive career, he decided to contribute to Judo by becoming an instructor of the All-Japan Judo Federation and Kokushikan University. 

Moreover, he was the coach of the Judo team of Japan in the Summer Olympics 2004.

Also, the Japanese Emperor awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun after his demise.

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9. Wim Ruska

Wim Ruska (29th August of 1940 – 14th February of 2015) is a former legendary Judo player from Netherland. Ruska is regarded as one of the best Judokas in the history.

Ruska started learning Judo at the Dutch Navy. Later, he traveled to Japan for further training.

Wim-Ruska-with-a-trophy
Wim Ruska with a trophy (Source: Wikipedia)

This legendary judoka is the only athlete to win two gold medals in one Olympics. He acquired gold in absolute and heavyweight categories in 1972.

Moreover, he has acquired two gold medals in the World Championships (1967, 1971) in the +93 kg category. Also, he was elected into the Judo Federation Hall of Fame in 2013.

Thus, he was widely known as the most dominant judoka during his time.

8. David Douillet

Number 8 on our list of best judokas in the history is David Douillet (born 17 February 1969). 

He won gold medals in judo heavyweight in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta and Sydney.

In addition, he conquered four world titles and a European title.

David Douillet best judoka in the history
David Douillet after a win.

On October 18, 2009, he was elected as a member of the French National Assembly.

Later, he was appointed as the new Sports Minister on September 26, 2011, until May 2012.

Also, David has had his name put on a judo simulation video game recently. David Douillet judo is the name of the game.

Hence, with these accomplishments, the Frenchman is considered one of the best judoka in the history.

7. Teddy Riner

Teddy Riner (born 7 April 1989) is undoubtedly number 7 on our list of best judokas in the history.

Riner was nicknamed “Big Ted,” who remained unbeatable for almost a decade since 2010.

In fact, he is the only judoka who managed to win a gold medal in ten World Championships.

Also, he won the heavyweight (+100 kg)championship at the 2007 World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a result, Big Ted became the youngest ever senior world champion.

Likewise, he has won five gold medals at the European Championships and three gold medals at the Olympics.

Teddy-Riner-at-an-Event
Teddy Riner at an Event (Source: Faxinfo)

Moreover, he has conquered five golds in European Championships, four golds at the IJF World Masters, six golds at the IJF Grand Slam, and another six golds at IJF Grand Prix.

However, he was finally defeated at the Paris Grand Slam in February 2020.

He received the Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 2013 for his contributions to Judo.

In 2021, Teddy won the gold medal in the Judo World Master held in Doha, Qatar.

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6. Ilias Iliadis

A Georgian-Greek retired Judoka, Ilias Iliadis (born on 10 November 1986), is a living legend. Moreover, since the start of his international career, Iliadis has competed for Greece.

At 17, he became the youngest player to win a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Also, Ilias won the gold medal at the 2010 World Judo Championships in Tokyo.

Ilias Iliadis best judokas in the world
                   Ilias Iliadis after a win

Moreover, he was the first athlete to march into the Bird’s Nest Stadium during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as Greece’s flagbearer.

Altogether, he has six World Championship medals. In addition, he was selected Greek Male Athlete of the Year in 2014.

5. Masato Uchishiba

Number 5 on our list of best judokas in the history is Masato Uchishiba (born 17 June 1978). 

Masato is a Japanese judoka who is Olympic Champion of 2004 and 2008. Also, he was a finalist in the 2005 World Championships. 

Masato-Uchishiba-showing-his-medal
Masato Uchishiba showing his medal (Source: Hindustan Times)

Additionally, Masato won the Grand Slam of Paris in 2009. Also, in 2009, Masato Uchishiba (JPN) ranked first in the IJF World Ranking for seniors U66kg.

In April 2010, he began coaching the women’s judo team at Kumamoto Prefecture’s Kyushu University of Nursing and Social Welfare.

However, Uchishiba was suspended from his judo activities later in 2011 due to a sexual harassment complaint.

4. Anton Geesink

10th dan judoka, Anton Geesink (6 April 1934 – 27 August 2010) from Netherland is considered one of the best Judokas.

Anton was the first judoka to win a gold medal at World Judo Championship who is not from Japan in 1961 and 1965. He is well-known for his talent and efforts to be the best.

He was also an Olympic gold medalist who represented Japan in the 1964 Summer Olympics. During his career, he also won a record 21 European Judo Championships.

Anton-Geesink-striking-a-pose
Anton Geesink striking a pose (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition, in 1957, 1961, 1964, and 1965, he was named Dutch Sportsman of the Year.

Furthermore, the Japanese government bestowed upon him the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1997.

In fact, his admirers remember him as the man who beat Akio Kaminaga in front of his home audience at the 1964 Summer Olympics.

3. Tadahiro Nomura

One of the most famous and best judokas in the history is Tadahiro Nomura (born December 10, 1974). 

Japanese judoka Nomura is called the king of judoka. He won three Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000, and 2004, all in the extra lightweight division.

Tadahiro-Nomura
Tadahiro Nomura, one of the best judokas in the history

In 1996, he also won the All-Japan-selected judo championships title.

Again, Nomura swept the All-Japan Selected judo championship in 1997.

In addition, the athlete won a gold medal at the World Judo Championships in Paris, reaffirming his status as the best athlete in his weight class.

2. Yasuhiro Yamashita

At number 2 on our list of best judokas in the history is Yasuhiro Yamashita (born June 1, 1957).

From 1977 to 1985, he won the All-Japan title nine times in a row.

Furthermore, until his retirement in 1885, he had 203 straight victories (with 7 draws in between).

Yasuhiro Yamashita best judoka in history
Yasuhiro Yamashita, during an interview.

Likewise, he became the youngest judoka to win the All-Japan Judo Championship in 1977 at 19.

Furthermore, he received the Japanese National Prize of Honor on October 9, 1984, 

Later, he ultimately won the Olympic gold medal in 1984 in Los Angeles.

However, he presently serves as an instructor or counselor for organizations like the International Judo Federation, Tokai University, and the All Japan Judo Federation.

1. Kano Jigoro

Our top pick for the best judokas globally is Kano Jigoro (28 October 1860 – 4 May 1938).

Everyone considers him as the founder of Judo. Also, Jigoro played a major role in introducing this sport even outside Japan.

Also, Jigoro was the one who initially introduced the concept of white and black belts.

Kano-Jigoro-posing-for-a-camera
Kano Jigoro posing for a camera (Source: Wikipedia)

Moreover, he coined the term “dan ranking” to describe how participants of a martial art discipline rank one another.

In fact, he is the best judoka of all time because of his enormous and unmeasurable dedication and effort.

The Grand Order of the Rising Sun, First Order of Merit, and the Third Imperial Degree were official medals and decorations.

On May 14, 1999, Kan became the inaugural International Judo Federation (IJF) Hall of Fame.

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